Tuesday, 12/14-Back Through The Gate

After two months and over 3200 miles, we made it back under the Golden Gate bridge just at “sun-up”, which was around 0700.  I put that in quotes since it was raining and cloudy and we didn’t actually “see” the sun.  Almost didn’t see the bridge either since it was alternately cloudy and foggy.  A bit stressful coming in the last 20 miles or so with all the shipping traffic trying to get the same place as we were in the rain/fog.  

The oil pump issue we had off Santa Cruz/Monterey never became a problem.  After throttling down at first, then shutting down for a few minutes while I added some fresh oil, we started back up, saw full pressure and took off.  The pressure didn’t waver after that.  In looking it up later, I’m thinking it might have been either a pressure sensor “hickup” or low oil viscosity.  The oil had almost 200 hours on it and we had been running non-stop since Santa Barbara (about 40 hours).  Maybe the quart of fresh oil helped bump up the viscosity.  Anyway, I’m going to change the oil and filters and watch it carefully for a while.

So for now, signing off, but already getting ready for next year, so stay tuned for updates, new “local” adventures and planning for the “year plus” trip.  Next year: Baja, then Mexico and then the South Seas.  I’ve already got a three page list of stuff to do before then to get ready, so I imagine the time will pass fairly quickly.

Also, a big THANK YOU for everyone who has been following this blog.  Hearing your thoughts and getting your feedback has been awesome.  Thanks so much!

The Bash Back Home

We’re doing the “Bash” off Big Sur right now.  6 foot seas, very closely spaced and about 20 knots of wind.  Just rounded the lighthouse a little while ago and have a course now set for Pillar Point, about 50 miles North.

Before the rest of the update:  HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANN!!  The Dolphin Whisperer’s birthday is today.  She’s garble, garble years young!  Have a great one, sorry we didn’t make it back in time, but will only be a day or so off.

So where were we?  Oh yes, we left King Harbor (Redondo Beach) at 0730 two days ago in thick fog.  Used the radar to pick our way out.  Couldn’t even see the navigation buoys until we were right on them although the radar clearly showed where they were.  Other than the fog on leaving, which lifted a couple hours later, it was an uneventful ride to Santa Barbara.  Got there around 2200 and tied up at the fuel dock for the night.  That way we were first in line for fuel when the attendant got there at 0700.  So, fueled up and out of Santa Barbara on the 12th after a brief 9 hour stay.

Flat water out of Santa Barbara toward Conception, gave Geoff time to do some baking (he’s so domestic!)  So, we kneaded a bunch of bread and he made biscuits and almost made French Bread.  The French Bread didn’t rise, so he made it into breadsticks and a scary looking brick.  Well, really more of a discus.  I used to throw a discus that was about the same size, shape and weight.  Anyway, the biscuits and breadsticks have been tasty and the smell of the baking alone was worth all the effort.

12/12/10.  1430.  Dolphins everywhere.  A hundred or so dolphins came over our way just now.  They look to be feeding so didn’t hang around to play, but always nice to see our friends.

I was just thinking that I was looking forward to doing a bunch of reading on this trip, but actually have only just finished two books that I started back in Berkeley.  The reason is that after two months I’m still not tired of just watching the ocean and sea life.  It really doesn’t get boring and is always changing so I can’t get motivated to crack open a book.  Also, I’m spending my time navigating and taking care of the boat, so that’s my excuse.

12/13/10.  0430.  About 12 miles North of San Simeon.  Really thick fog.  Can’t see anything past the bow lights, so I’m just sitting in the nav station watching the radar.  Fortunately from using it the last two months, I know that it will pick up something as small as a 10 inch crab pot marker (in flat water), so I have confidence anybody else out here will show up on the screen.  Still it’s a little spooky that you can’t see a thing.

1700.  The middle of Monterey Bay.  Right about sunset I noticed the oil pressure was dropping.  It normally never moves, so that caught my attention.  I watched it for a while and it was clearly but slowly going down.  Once it moved out of the “green” zone, I decided we needed to take some action, there’s clearly a problem here.  We throttled down and just doing that made it go back up.  Hmmm.  I checked the oil and it seemed high enough-about 3/4’s full which is where I usually leave it.  However given the situation, I added almost a quart.  We re-started the engine and the pressure is back to normal. Now we’re going to watch it and have set an alarm for 30 minutes which we’ll keep going all night.  For now, it’s been steady for over an hour now.  Maybe it was just a bit of dirt or something in the sensor that got pumped out when we changed the RPM.  We have been at the same 2450 RPM for over 30 hours, but I don’t know.  Keeping fingers crossed.

In King Harbor, Redondo Beach

We got in around 8AM. Geoff grew up in this area, so he took the boat in to his old stomping grounds and was up the dock ramp at the King Harbor Yacht Club in one bound. Before I knew it, he had secured “guest privileges” for us and we’re comfortably ensconced here. Showers, leather couches and wi-fi.

I want to give a big shout-out to Dinah, who is the club manager. She has been a fixture here for quite a few years. Her hospitality is most appreciated and we have a nice spot for Charisma right outside at the guest dock.

How long has Dinah been here? Well, as Geoff, his brother (who lives in the area) and I were heading to the grocery store, Dinah cornered those two and wouldn’t let them out of the club until they stood by her “kids wall” where she penciled in their current height and wrote them name by the “mark” on the wall. It’s a special thing she does with “her kids” where she tracks them over the years. Geoff has grown about 12 inches since his last measurement. 😉

So…we’re just hanging here waiting out the weather. It’s Thursday. There are 13 foot seas and 30 knot winds a little ways up North. Nasty conditions given we want to go North, so we wait. Looks like we have a window starting Saturday. We’ll go from here to Santa Barbara (Hi Kelly!) for a quick fuel stop and then onto Pt Conception. Looks like Conception might be in a good mood by Saturday night or Sunday morning. We’ll round as it lets us and then head up the coast.

Back in the USA!

Whew, after almost 3000 miles by ocean and about two months, we’re back in US waters. A brief stop at Customs (they were very nice other than confiscating our limes, apples and some other vegetables!) and then the fuel dock and we’re off for King Harbor at Redondo Beach where Geoff grew up. He’s going to visit home and I’m going to catch up on my sleep and clean up the boat a bit.  Also we’re waiting out some weather before making the final leg North.

(Enroute to King Harbor, an overnight trip from San Diego. Warning: Vaguely philosophical musings ahead. Proceed at your own risk!)

Time: 2000-There’s a supertanker off our port side that’s bigger and has more lights than 99% of the cities and towns we’ve been through over the past two months. From fish camps to little towns, both Geoff and I have commented on and been impressed by the low-key, use-what-you-have, attitude in Baja. Inspired by the peacefulness and beauty of this starry night, the tanker and lights on shore are signaling that we’re bidding a wonderful, simple life, adios (for now).

2100- The Pacific Ocean is to Port. It’s dark, mysterious even a little ominous at times, but the darkness and emptiness provide a sharp and brilliant contrast that sharpens the stark beauty of the glimmering starlit sky. Los Angeles is to Starboard. Bright lights, lots of action and excitement but the stars in the sky become so diminished you can hardly make them out. Wind on my face, watching our course looking forward we’re going right down the middle between the two sides as Charisma works her way North.

In a similar way, I’ve also seen (and experienced) two different economies. In one, you can accumulate vast wealth but sometimes all that wealth can diminish a sense of life’s natural beauty and simple pleasures. In the other economy, you can accumulate beauty, nature, friendship, as well as maple syrup and chocolate brownies (my “payment” from several other boats I’ve run across for being a single sideband “expert” and helping them to figure out how to operate their radios. I’m working on a business plan for expanding on this in the future 😉 ).

2300- We’re getting close to King Harbor and SHOWERS! I think it’s been over a week since we’ve bathed. We sail 24 hours a day and take three hour watches at night, so you can only sleep for a few hours at a time and it’s gotten too cold for sun showers.

It’s late. I’m at the helm somewhere off Long Beach (Hi Christine!). Geoff is asleep until his watch comes up later.
My nose is cold.
My butt is falling asleep.
My tea burnt my tongue.
My bruises hurt.
I’m sleepy.
I put my nose in my jacket. Now my nose is getting warm, but my glasses have fogged up and I can’t see.
My hands are cold.
I put them in my pocket to warm up-my pockets are wet from the wave I took over the bow.
My hands are still cold. Now they are wet too.
I smell.
I love it out here.


The blood in my veins ran cold. We had some rough weather all night and were finally just 20 miles off San Diego when something told me to go check the bilge. When I opened a floorboard the shock of seeing water sloshing against the bottom of it gripped me by the throat.  I knew Charisma has a four foot deep bilge, so water within an inch of the top was a LOT of water. Instantly I pulled off the rest of the floorboards exposing the manual bilge pump and started pumping like hell.  Almost right away it jammed.  A problem I was having as I tested it two months ago before leaving, but I thought it was solved. There had been a lot of shavings and junk in the bilge and the filter kept jamming.  I had cleaned it six times while in Berkeley and it seemed to have cleaned the bilge out, but now the same problem again.  Probably two months of sailing and some small sloshing had dislodged more “gunk”.  I ran to the electric bilge pump and turned it on.  It started running, but watching the bilge, there seemed to be no reduction in water.  I could hear that it was primed and pumping, but not fast enough!!  That possibly meant a BIG leak.

Quickly now, my only alternative was to tear down the filter to the big pump and clean it.  Jumped to it, cleaned, put back together, pump more.  Air was leaking through the filter so the pump wasn’t working.  Broke down the filter again, cleaned the gaskets and back together.  Some air still leaking, but pump working to about half capacity.  Now I’m pumping for all I’m worth and envisioning evacuating the boat into the liferaft I had bought but never intended to actually use.  Thinking my arm is now getting really tired and sore and I’m not sure how much arm strength I’m going to have left, and then I noticed that the water was slowly decreasing.  Yes, definitely getting lower.  I’m making progress!  Another couple minutes and I finally heard that awesome (at this point) sound of the pump pulling only air.  The bilge had emptied.  For now.  Watching deep into the bilge for more water coming in I saw none.  Hmmm.  A mystery.  Looks like we’re not sinking, at least for now.

With a reprieve, I took apart the filter in the large manual pump more thoroughly, especially the gaskets which seal it from air being sucked in and put that back together for the fourth time.  Another look in the bilge, still no more water, so I can finally relax a bit and really start looking around inside the boat to see what the water damage might be.  Turned out we had been on starboard tack all the time so it was the port side that received the water (not the starboard side where my clothes drawer is!)  Unfortunately the port side is where a lot of the food is stored near the floor.  Oops.  Pulled up the cushions looked under the seat into the big bins and…oh yeah, water got in here big time.  Soaked all the vegetables and other stuff, but fortunately most of it was sealed in plastic.  Tortillas, crackers, cereal, rice, pasta and other such “long term” stuff were all protected.  In fact the only casualty was a box of macaroni that had soaked through and “sloshed” its way through the food locker with some no doubt making it to the bilge.  OK, clean the locker, dry the veggies (turned out this didn’t matter too much as most of the citrus, miscellaneous vegetables and apples were confiscated by customs in San Diego a little later that day).

OK, clean up done, still no water in the bilge, time to find out how the heck somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 or so gallons of water made it into the boat.  Boats are supposed to keep this much water OUTSIDE.  Started the mental checklist; chainplates, toe rail, deckplates…too small… anchor hawsepipes… (!!!)  Ah ha, maybe the little holes where the chain went through the caps were sucking down water when we were burying the bow in the big waves all night.  I went forward to have a look and found it big time.  The port anchor chain hawsepipe had been knocked completely off leaving a gaping four inch hole right down into the chain locker with subsequent draining into the bilge.  Yipes.  How did that happen?  Every wave must have dumped a couple gallons of water as the bow went under.  A closer look revealed that the foot or so of chain running along the deck from anchor into the pipe had been getting knocked around by the big waves (I saw chafe on the deck) and finally one wave must have bumped it so hard it knocked the cover up and off.  Actually a big relief to discover the problem.  Now I can fix it and not worry about some invisible leak in the boat.  I have now put a clip on the cover and attached it to a couple feet of chain hanging into the locker, so it’s now weighed down pretty well.  I might yet also put a pin on it when I get back, but that should work for now, especially if I check it periodically if we get into some big seas again.

I think I’ve just found out what they say; “you can never have enough bilge pumps”.

Dolphins, Killer Whales and SPAM

A lot to go over from the last couple days, but first our current position.  It’s about 1200 on December 6th and we’re just a couple miles off Ensenda.  It’s blowing solid 20 knots gusting to 25 and of course is right on the nose so we’re motoring right into the wind and waves.  Smash, smash, bash, spash!  Water everywhere.  We’re just barely making 5 knots which is our determinate as to when to give up and duck into Ensenda.  If we can hold this speed we’ll stay out go for San Diego (ETA some time tonight).  Fuel might be tight, so I’m watching the engine time carefully.  We should just have enough, but you never know whether bashing into this stuff is using more fuel than I’m accounting for.A couple of Grey Whales just swam over and cruised by about 30 yards away.  They each spouted about four times, so I had a great view of them and they me, then they dove and I didn’t see them again. Must have been the beard.

More on dolphins and killer whales in a bit, first a quick update on our stay in Turtle Bay.  Most importantly, my laundry did arrive as promised.  However the expected, price inflation also hit.  Miguel looked uphappy when I gave him the $6 for the laundry, but he’s a patient man.  Instead of complaining, he hung around while we had a final beer at Refugio’s on the beach.  During this time, he talked around the issue for a while but finally drew two lines in the sand.  One was big and the other half the size.  Ah, ha!  The aforementioned laundry actually took one and a half “automaticas”, as in loads of laundry in their machine.  Well, it wasn’t that much, but I had factored the inflation in before I gave it to him the day before and was still glad to have “Kayak service” and clean laundry for $9.  Miguel was happy.

Left Tortuga on the 4th.  Just outside the bay, a pod of dolphins joined us dancing, jumping and carrying on as dolphins do, as if asking; “Where’s Ann?” (the Dolphin Whisperer).  A fitting farewell to what has now become a favorite spot.  I can’t wait to visit here again.  A gorgeous setting and wonderful, happy, people.

The excitement of the day came a few hours later when we spotted several pods of Killer Whales (Orca).  We found them to be keenly attuned to their environment and more shy than the dolphins.  I altered our course to go over and see them and the minute the boat turned, the Orcas disappeared and popped up quite a ways from where they had been swimming.  So, I altered course back and they came back to their spot.  This went on a couple times until figuring out the issue, I just put the boat in neutral and let it float without course or speed changes.  That did the trick.  I guess they realized we weren’t a threat at that point and came over our way.  Here’s the really interesting part; it felt like the Raptors in the movie Jurassic Park.  One pod came up about 25 yards off the starboard side and showed themselves, swimming lazily along while Geoff and I were frantically taking pictures.  Then all of a sudden, completely taking us by surprise four others that we hadn’t seen jumped out of the water BEHIND the boat, scaring the bejebbers out of us.  We whipped around to see them swimming right up to the stern and about three feet under water looking up at us.  I’d swear they were laughing. They had us cold.  I was staring right down at a 15 foot long killer whale about 10 feet away.  Beautiful and clever creatures.  The male’s dorsal fin had to have been 4 feet tall.  I will never forget this encounter.

Just so they wouldn’t be upstaged, about an hour later, several hundred dolphins passed us chasing their dinner.  Leaping out of the water and surging down the waves, they turned the otherwise placid water around us into a class IV whitewater rapid as they darted back and forth (probably chasing squid).

My note for 2330 this evening:  Being out here is all about you and 10 million stars all attentively listening to your every thought.

Oh, the SPAM part!  Well, we’re definitely tired of fish although we’re still finishing up that Wahoo with fish tacos at lunch.  But for a change of pace for dinner I made SPAM a la Chareesma.  Left over potatoes, onion, chopped pepper, salsa and three eggs all browned on the stove with a couple tortillas thrown over at the last minute to steam.  With a cucumber and tomato salad, we were happy.  A one pan meal, perfect for that first evening back at sea, topped off with a Charisma to watch the sunset with (now new and improved with Fresca, since we can’t get Ginger Ale and have run out of Sprite).2killer-whale.jpg

Whales and “Santa Ana” Winds

We’re finally coming up off Ensenda.  I’m mentally calculating whether we need to stop for fuel or not when I see something out of the corner of my eye.  Whales!  Finally.  They have been pretty elusive this trip.  Two Grey whales came over to check us out.  We’re headed North, they are headed South, so our passing was brief.  They came to within about 50 yards, surfaced four or five times, then one final dive and they were gone.  (My camera was below and I didn’t want to miss seeing my friends, so you’ll have to imagine what they looked like).   Wow, I always love seeing such huge majestic and gentle creatures.  You can always “sense” an intelligence when they are around.  It’s an eerie feeling.


A little later in the day a dozen or so dolphins swam over to visit and ride the bow wave.  I love to go up on the bow and watch them as they trade places riding the wave up there.




Later that afternoon the wind was up to 25 gusting at least to 30 knots.  Too much wind to be able to motor anymore as we were down to making about 2 knots headway.  Sails up.  We had a double reef and staysail and were doing 6 knots through 4 foot, fairly closely spaced swells, so we were burying the blow a lot and there was a lot of water flying through the air.  The forecast had not talked about such winds and I was trying to figure out how it had been so far off, but the answer appeared at sunset.  As the sky started glowing some amazing purple, orange and red colors, I could also see a brown haze across the sky-Santa Ana winds blowing the dirt off the land.  We were nearing San Diego and they HAD been talking about these, but I thought we’d be too far South for them to be an impact.  Wrong again!  Fascinating colors and cloud forms.  At one point the clouds actually looked like the rings of Saturn, blown flat and curved with brown, purple, lavender, orange and more colors.


The wind and waves lasted until about 0100, when they dropped and we were able to shake out the reefs and have a more relaxed sail as we neared San Diego.

 Santa Ana Sunset


Greetings from Turtle Bay

December 2, 2010-27 Degrees 41 Minutes North, 114 Degrees 52 Minutes West

Back here again.  A beautiful spot.

Got in around 0400 this morning.  As soon as we were sure the anchor was secure, we crawled into our bunks and within a minute or two were sound asleep until the sound of a Mexican serenade woke us mid-morning.  For my part I thought I was dreaming until I heard a lilting; “Charisma (pronounced Mexican style; ‘Char_isma’), donde esta?”  That woke me up, but looking out the porthole I saw nothing. Still I heard; “Char_isma?”  I went up the companionway into the cockpit still looking for the voice and finally looking down in the water next to the boat saw Miguel, our new friend in his Kayak.  Or at least he voted himself our new friend.  He paddled all the way out to the boat and asked, could he come aboard for a cup of coffee.  Well, he was so nice, how could I resist.

So, we spent an hour or so chatting in English/Spanish with Miguel over some coffee.  Turns out he’s now our self-appointed guide of sorts.  His wife does laundry, so I gave him mine ($6).  I hope I see it again.  We’re supposed to meet him tomorrow on La Playa, a la Quattro (4PM) when it’s to be ready.  He drew a very complicated but fun map to show where to meet him (“right next to Refugio’s”).  I’ve already placed the hand made map in the picture frame in the main cabin it’s such a delight.  After coffee, he paddled off with my laundry secured in a garbage bag on his lap.  Later, when we went to the little town for some lunch, Miguel was waiting on the beach to escort us to Carlos and Mercedes’ restaurant.  I think he gets a meal for bringing the gringos because he got a plate of the same food we got and of course joined us in our meal.  Kind of like advertising only more charming.  Oh well.  He’s very nice.

Our sail here yesterday and last night was lovely as it could be.  The highlight was a night long meteor shower in the NE.  About five per minute, some of them scorching dramatic arcs across the sky.  How fun to watch.  It certainly makes the night watch go quickly.

As I was watching the meteors, I found myself staring at the Big Dipper, also in the NE.  My epiphany for the night:  The Big Dipper in the early morning hours forms a question mark for those who are still awake to see it.  Hmmm.


Follow The Milky Way

It rises from the Southeast, arcing directly overhead and slipping over the horizon to the Northwest. We’re just chasing the trail the Milky Way leaves across the sky.

That was a note I made from last night.  Another gorgeous, although now distinctly chilly, night.  Sailed much of the night just following the stars.

The conditions were 15-18 knots, 3-4 foot seas, Wilson ably steering and one reef.  This kind of sailing is what it’s all about.  We are not quite going directly to where we want to go since we have to make an angle to what the wind allows, but it’s peaceful and beautiful.  It’s also not often that you get to stay on one tack for eight to ten hours and just stare at the stars!  Haven’t seen another boat.

1900, Nov 30-Three Frigate Birds are attempting to land on the masthead.  We’re having an argument (me and the birds) over that.  I know that they can’t land on the water and need a rest, but I also know these big birds would break the wind instruments and/or the VHF antenna, so I’ve been alternately flashing my flashlight and blowing the handheld horn (it’s starting to sound like a football game out here).  What finally worked is I set off the strobe in the masthead light as the three huge birds (six foot wingspans) were hovering just a foot or so from their proposed landing zone.  That seemed to disorient and discourage them.  Sorry Frigates.  Bow pulpit OK.  Masthead, Not.

1600, Dec 1st-Motor sailing with about 7 knots of wind.  It’s going to be like this for a few days now, so we’re taking advantage of flat seas and light wind to power into Turtle Bay (Bahia Tortuga).  We should get there sometime in the very early hours-maybe 3 or 4AM, after leaving Bahia Santa Maria yesterday.  The wind died down a day earlier than forecast, so we jumped out of Santa Maria first thing in the morning.

Actually lots of different conditions but this morning gets the prize so far.  On my five hour watch (0800-1300) the wind went from zero to 25 knots and back.  I was motor sailing, then as the wind picked up, shut down the engine and commenced sailing, but quickly had to put in a reef as the wind increased and then the not forecast increase went to 25 or so and had me put in a second reef.  After a couple hours of really fun sailing and some tall, steep waves on the beam, the wind died back down until by the end of the watch it was back to motor-sailing.  So far, we’re thinking Geoff’s jinxed.  Every time I have a great watch, sailing like crazy, just as his watch starts the wind dies.  We’re hoping for better for him as we continue our move North although for the next couple days he doesn’t care.  He’s been lured into the trilogy of the Dragon Tattoo.  He can’t stop.  Read the first one in a 24 hour period yesterday.  He’s now on the second (well, actually sleeping right this minute, as he was up reading all night!).

The sun’s getting ready to set, so time to put on some warmer clothes.  This isn’t the tropics anymore.